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tv   Washington Week  PBS  March 4, 2011 8:00pm-8:30pm PST

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gwen: libya, government shutdown showdown and the supreme court. with all of these big stories say about the test of democracy. tonight on "washington week." >> the violence must stop. muammar qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead and he must leave. gwen: but what can the u.s. do to make it happen? sanctions, navy ships, no-fly zone, all being debated but the bloodshed continues. at home there's no blood but it's a standoff all the same. >> the best way to govern is quit spending more money than we take in. >> we need to cut spending. >> we also believe those cuts must be smart and targeted. gwen: congress gets a two-week reprieve to approve a budget but
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the underlying fight is far from over. and at the supreme court, a near-unanimous vote that flies in the face of public opinion. >> my first thought was eight justices don't have the common sense god gave a goat. gwen: testing the limits of free speech. covering the week, james kitfield of national journal, john harwood of cnbc and "the new york times," and joan biskupic of "usa today." >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week" with gwen ifill, produced in association with national journal. corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by --
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>> corporate funding is also provided by boeing, norfolk southern, additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. another week has passed and the crisis in libya has begun to harden into civil war. u.s. officials have stepped up their criticism of the qaddafi regime with u.n. ambassador susan rice calling him
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delusional. and now a president obama obama himself is finally condemning qaddafi by name. but secretary of defense robert gates to explain why one suggested u.s. response imposing a no-fly zone in libyan air space might be difficult. >> a no-fly zone begins with an attack on libya, to destroy the air defenses. that's the way you do a no-fly zone. and then you can -- and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. but that's the way it starts. gwen: but that's not the way it ends. james kitfield writes this week, this dynamic instability could jeopardize the united states' entire middle east strategy. how? >> that strategy's based on a deal. we have a deal with all of these countries and autocrats in the region that basically they'll ignore what happens inside their country if they help us advance our interest and goals.
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what's happening there is not allowing us anymore to ignore what's going on inside their countries and oh, by the way, they're not interested in helping us advance our goals right now. they're sort of interested in trying to hang on for dear life. gwen: when you say our goals, what do you mean? >> number one, keep the oil floying. number two, help contain iran, number three, corporate in the war on terror and counterterrorism operations we have going throughout that region and finally, you know, helping us guarantee the security of israel. and all of those things in the short term become more difficult. we saw with the oil spiking near $100 a barrel and then going over, you have a number of -- the protests have spread to a number of wealthy oil-producing states like oman, even protests in saudi arabia, bahrain, libya, iraq, all oil producers. so that's a problem. we have seen with iran, first thing the new interim government in egypt does is let two iranian war ships go to the suez canal, something mubarak in 40 years never allowed.
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that could get more difficult. we seen hezbollah take the prime minister of lebanon, which is approximately for iran. in terms of counterterrorism, there's cairn libya if it goes into a civil war could become a failed state. looks a lot like somalia then where there's an al qaeda affiliate. we're also worried islammists could hijack some of the democratic transitions in places like egypt. finally that 14-1 vote on the security council protecting israel from a resolution criticizing settlements is a pretty good indicator it's going to be a pretty lonely fight protecting israel right now because these governments become more democratic and they will give voice to the arab street that's anti-israel in terms of settlements and its occupation of the west bank. >> you know, there are so many things that are problematic, especially the spike in oil that you talk about that seems like there will be no re -- reprieve, but isn't there for the long game an advantage of these democratic the movements over time? >> i think that's right. we all feel this sort of kinship, you can't help to be kind of proud and hopeful for
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these people trying to get a voice in their own governments and there are pretty rotten governments. gwen: but it's like we don't know who they are either. >> each country is different. we don't know -- certainly libya, for instance. we don't know the opposition. we have a better handle on it a bit in egypt. in general it's pretty well accept fundamental it becomes a more normal democratic region t. will quit being quite the breeding ground for terrorism and extremism that we have seen. that happens when you have repressive countries, when there's no other outlet for basically opposition except for extremism. so that's one hopeful sign. there's a hopeful sign i think that iran is feeling pretty nervous right now about people power revolutions. they had the big protests in 2009 after their elections. they can't be sitting very pretty right now looking all around them and seeing these revolutions. that's another possible really good long-term effect. i honestly think that this peace process with israel and the palestinian has been stalemated for so long that this night might -- and i wouldn't bet it
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it but might, in the long term help israel see the fact settlements are a nonstarter and let's get to peace negotiations. >> we heard from secretary gates about the complications of a no-fly zone. that being the case, what other options do we have, and are we in fact relatively powerless in this situation and we're just commenting from the sidelines? or can we have a real effect on the course of events inside what looks like it's becoming a civil war? >> it depends on how much want to get involved, how much do you want to put at stake in the libyan issue right now, which is why i think that a no-fly zone is probably not going to happen. because nato's already said we will need a u.n. security council resolution. well, u.n. security council is not going to pass that resolution. china and russia don't believe in this kind of interference in internal affairs. it makes them very nervous. that means obama would have to lead a sort of small coalition of the willing unilaterally. when you're stretched thin in afghanistan and iraq and your
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own secretary of defense said this week that it would have to be out of our minds to start another war in the middle east in a largely muslim country, it does draw awe picture that says all of our interests commensurate with that is getting involved in a civil war because, again, this is not massacre of just peaceful protesters. there's a rebel movement now that captured weapons. we would be putting ourselves in the middle of the civil war. >> everybody agrees boots on the ground, total nonstart. >> lutely not. gwen: what you hear john mccain and john kerry, who don't agree on much, actually both criticizing our seeming to criticize secretary gates about his hesitation on this? >> you know, john mccain, i was surprised by senator kerry. john mccain's been hawkish, as has senator lieberman. they just came back from the region and even they aren't saying we should do it but should be contemplating it seriously. i think there's serious contemplation. but i think for the reasons i just outlined, the end of that contemplation will be probably not unless something happens in
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the future, in the near future, that sort of assaults our sensibilities in terms of killing of civilians it gets us over that reluctance. >> and civil war is a different calculus entirely than what we saw in egypt and tunisia. >> absolutely. the rebels have weapons. they have some army movements that turned on them. they're talking about marching on tripoli. that looks more like a civil war than massacre of peaceful protesters. gwen: thanks, james. back hao in washington, president obama signed a stop budget gap which could mean two things, the beginning of the end of washington's protracted spending debate or the beginning of the end. one came from house speaker john boehner. >> if you give congress four weeks, guess what? they'll take four weeks. you give them six weeks, they'll take six weeks. we got two weeks. let's get the job done. envelope another sign came from the white house which said it is
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willing to make more budget cuts. most important the new polls show the american people may not be enthusiastic about this debate, which leaves the negotiations exactly where, john? >> just getting started really. the impetus for cutting the budget has come from these freshmen house republicans and republican leadership in the wake of this tremendous victory they had in midterm elections. all right. they propose cutting a lot of money very quickly. democrats have been playing a bit of a rope-a-dope strategy trying to let them exhaust themselves, express themselves, vent in the house. they passed a budget bill a couple weeks ago cutting spending. now the rubber's hitting the road. the senate got the two-week extension, went along with the cuts in the house. democrats were able to make a deal with republicans on cuts they considered the least harmful potential cuts in the budget. now you've got vice president biden, you have bill daley, chief of staff at the white house involved, and democrats are beginning to lay out a strategy.
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part of it involves game-planning with numbers. republicans when they are trying to make their cuts look bigger for the freshmen because they know how difficult it is to cut the budget, they counted a certain amount of money that they said had already been cut from the president's initial budget request. now democrats are counting that money and saying, well, we cut that money too. gwen: from a budget that was never enacted. >> exactly. they're trying to lay the predicate for some modest additional concessions that they will then cast as going more than halfway towards meeting the republicans. the goal of the democrats is to slowly cut process down and try to prevent what they consider and what president obama considers would be damage to programs that he thinks are essential to what he calls winning the future. gwen: on a day like today when we see good numbers on unemployment for the first time in a long time, 8.9%, 9%, which still sounds like a lot but not as bad as it could have been, does that change the backdrop, background noise, background music for this debate? >> i think it does.
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it's kind of interesting and it's a little nuisance. first of all, the public doesn't feel very good even though the numbers indicate progress in the economy. we saw in our poll more pessimists in the economy. still have only 30% of the people who think the country is on the right track. not very fund of congress. president obama's at 48%. but the better the economy does, the less people feel urgency is about taking a weed whacker to various government programs. part of the mentality behind the cuts was we're in a crisis, we have to do something, let's cut spending. which is popular in polls but when you get to the specifics, we had an nbc/"the wall street journal" poll this week that showed a lot of people saying yes, let's cut important programs. then you start listing the programs -- medicare? >> no. >> no. social security, no. education, no. unemployment insurance? no. it gets very difficult and what democrats are trying to do is get to the point where you lay
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out specifics, republicans have to defend specific cuts and they think -- some of the republican pollsters, frankly, think republicans may be getting themselves in hot water. >> i was going to say when i was looking at some of the specifics of some of the cuts i was reminded by the old adage that's attributed to dirksen, and he said a billion there, a billion there and suddenly you have real money. what's the target figure and what's realistic between what the republicans in the house are pushing for and what the obama administration and other democrats go for? and this is the thing i don't get, john, how much will people really feel this? will it be felt by people out there? >> well, i think some of it will be felt. i was talking to a white house official today who said if you have a freeze in head start, that just doesn't mean the program continues as it is. it means tens of thousands of kids will not be participating in head start because you need to keep up with -- with additional expenses and new people coming online.
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let's forget the phantom cuts from the budget twheapt enacted. republicans are talking about $61 billion for the rest of the fiscal year from the current level of spending. democrats have put so far about ten on the table. i think the democratic goal is to go to about 20 and say that that's meeting the republicans and going as far as they can go without harming the economic recovery and harming job creation. tricky argument for the democrats to seen embrace any job cuts because they're trying to make the argument that republican cuts would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. so then the question is, ok, so you're agreeing to some cuts. how many jobs are you going to cost? the president's theme right now is everything i'm doing is focused on increasing job creation so they're trying to draw a line in the sand somewhere to limit the damage. >> so all of the energy seemed like after the election in the republican side of the camp and you're describing democrats as rope-a-dope.
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sounds like it might be starting to work. >> they're in a somewhat better position than they were in november. the president is certainly in a better position. he cut that bipartisan deal with republicans in the lame duck session to cut taxes, to additionally, to not only preserve the bush tax cuts but to cut payroll taxes. that provided some stimulus for the economy. so the administration is trying to make the case that i have proven that i can work with them and i'm being reasonable. the administration's keeping a very low temperate tone to the initial stages of the debate. republicans are attacking the administration for not going far enough. democrats are trying to say we're being reasonable here. it's time for them to be reasonable too. gwen: quickly, john, does it seem to you like it does to me that a lot of the energy about this, public opinion energy, is out in the states, it's out in wisconsin and indiana and ohio and here we're talking about numbers. they're they are talking about real stuff? >> absolutely. and the counterpart to the tea party freshmen in the house are some of governors like scott
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walker of the again, that may be a place playing for time, he might have drawn a line where the public isn't with him. 70% people in the nbc/"the wall street journal" poll said public employees should have the right to bargain for pensions and benefits the way private sector employees do. they're already given on wages they're trying to preserve their bargaining rights. they're not in a bad place on public opinion. gwen: thanks on that. finally to the supreme court, which this week tested the limits of the public's appreciation of the u.s. constitution. it came in a case challenging the right of a kansas church group to picket military funerals, including those of service members killed in the war. the decision was not even close, 8-1 in favor of the church. offensive behavior to many but protected nonetheless. >> definitely protected. this is a good example of what the first amendment is all about, protecting distasteful, offensive speech we hate. supreme court itself took pains in the opinion to talk about how the speaker might be viewed as
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quite offensive, the westboro baptist church in the form of fred phelps, the pastor of this small kansas-based family-run church that's known for picketting military funerals. but the court pained to say, we don't like his message necessarily but he has every right to do it. gwen: let's remind people he pickets because he said it's an anti-gay issue. >> basically an anti-gay issue. a couple different points of view that actually chief justice john roberts cited in his opinion that said are part of the public debate. he has issues with what he said -- fred phelps in his westboro baptist church have issues with tolerance for homosexuality in america, particularly in the military. he also talks about the clergy, catholic clergy and pope scandal, the priest scandal, all of the signs say things like, you know, pope in hell, thank god for dead soldiers. so they're quite offensive. but i have to say their work is
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not just at military funerals. they have protested at elizabeth edwards' funeral. they wanted to go to the funeral of the 9-year-old that was killed in the tucson massacre. they're out there a lot. they have a big very presence and their whole point is go to high-profile funerals -- gwen: and do outrageous things, which in this case are still protected. >> exactly. what the chief justice of the united states said was these are public issues. these are issues of a lot of debate having to do with military policy, catholic clergy and that's exactly why they should be protected. >> you don't see so many 8-1 slam dunks. what's with alito on this? what's his argument? gwen: justice alito was the one person who voted against it. >> justice samuel alito was the one dissenter and he also dissented last year on a big free speech case having to do with depictions of animal cruelty. again, the supreme court said we might not like it but the
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statute was too broadly written in this case. in this case he said look, these protesters, just to remind everyone what the facts were, these protesters were about a thousand feet away from this catholic church in rural maryland where palestine who was killed in iraq was being memorialized. and the father, albert snyder, who we saw in that earlier piece of tape said that these people by being at his son's funeral caused him emotional distress. he won a jury verdict about $5 million that was then reversed on free speech grounds by an appeals court. and then the supreme court affirmed that. but what justice alito said was, look, you're reading free speech protections too broadly. that this was a verbal assault and it does not hurt the public debate in america for this man to have been able to claim some damages. >> now, it wasn't reflected in this case because it was an 8-1 case, but in terms of number of
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cases that are very evenly balanced in the court, any time somebody -- there's a change in the composition of the court, people are watching closely. this is the time of year when people do tend to announce that they're going to leave. is there any expectations any of the sitting justices are going to leave? and might that affect the contours of the court and future decisions? >> it would definitely affect the court in this because it was really very much in terms of precedent at the court. this was consistent. i think no matter what kind of change membership we have down the road, we'll still see this kind of ruling. you're right, springtime is when we have had resignations in the past two years. justice david souter announced on like may 1 two years ago, justicedown paul stevens in april last year. i don't think we are going to get a resignation. our eldest justice right now is ruth bader ginsburg, who's going to turn 78 this month. and she's actually in very good health. she has survived two serious bouts of cancer. i think given the politics of washington and how polarized things are that don't think --
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at least of the liberal justices want to step down in this kind of atmosphere right before we're getting into a new election season. >> is there speculation about any of the others? >> no, no. i think we're ok. gwen: let me ask you about this case, one thing about it because i'm curious about what the recourse is. for someone who feels someone has done something overtime top offensive towards them and the supreme court said sorry, charlie, this is not -- you cannot come to us for redress, where do they go? >> the individual has nowhere to go. albert snyder, who i talked to at length about this case, the father, he has nothing because this was his case brought with a personal injury claim. but what governments can do are to set limits around funerals and cemeteries. in fact overtime last couple of years because of how active the westboro baptist church has been, some 46 states have enacted legislation and congress did, too, to pry to keep people away from funerals and cemeteries but they can't be oriented -- the laws cannot be
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focused on the view points. gwen: so the point is have states create laws or local governments that can protect these people. in other words time and place. >> yes, exactly. gwen: thank you, joan. thank you, everybody. we have to leave you a few minutes early tonight so you can support your local pbs station, which in turn supports us. but the conversation continues online in our "washington week" webcast extra. we'll pick up where we left off at keep up with daily developments every night on the pbs "newshour" and we'll catch up again around the table next week on "washington week." good night. >> "washington week" was produced but weta, which is solely responsible for its content. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here. to give our war fighters every advantage. to deliver technology that
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